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Autism, Christmas magic… and why I struggle with festive cheer :-)

Christmas! Sparkling lights, late nights, drinking, eating & being merry with the people you love, If the fates allow. For many people, It’s a wonderland.


For me, as someone who is autistic, it’s... complicated. I love Christmas! So much! but it’s just ... it can be totally .....un wonderful. If I’m not careful with my capability’s- it’s a bit like struggling through a wasteland of shutdown & burnout, while everyone sings that it’s the best time of year... 


Christmas is wonderful, but it is SO hard...


People who love Christmas don’t always understand why another person might not. There’s a lot of judgement there- which is rather ablest & privileged to assume everyone has the capability, health, support & environment to LOVE everything Christmas ALL the time. People are allowed to not like Christmas all the time. We are allowed to struggle. It doesn’t make us less worthy or loving!


So here’s the thing-I’m that person who often gets looked at oddly because I can’t manage the noise, overloads, pressure, the changes in routine, & the seeming chaos the festive season can bring. I totally shutdown during the festive season, even though I love it all too.


I adore Christmas! I love choosing the perfect gift & making or buying-I hate the crowds, the shops, the overloads, the change, the pressure. Here’s why:


💫organisation and executive dysfunction 

I can’t physically or mentally organise my thoughts or actions to go out or do anything- with out 121 aid to actually make it happen. If my mum didn’t help me do food shopping every week, I’d literally starve. 


I’m disabled, autistic & chronically ill & Too often I’ve been left with no gifts to give people at celebrations, & people assume if I wanted to, I could have. Again- that’s ableism, for you! 


It’s complex because I do love the festive atmosphere & spending time with loved ones. 


However, I’m also not so good with the pressure, the hidden demand of gift giving & receiving & opening, new (possibly unsafe) food & drink. I’m uncomfortable with the change or expectation... here’s why! 


💫Changes to routine.

Holidays of any sort often  forces uncomfortable situations & change.

At Christmas time, we’re forced to leave the comfort & safety of our regular day-to-day living  (that we know as ‘safe’) to fit in with all this change & NEWNESS & possibility for ‘wrong’ or ‘danger’ (danger from shutdown, meltdown, overload or otherwise).


💫Often we won’t be able to continue any of our usual grounders or therapeutic plans-like stimming, routines, time out or sensory friendly surroundings. This can be very unsettling & distressing, & as a result, we are more prone to shutdowns & other unsettling things that could otherwise be avoided.


🧚🏻‍♀️How you can help:

Understand that small changes can often have a massive effect on someone Autistic like me, & that a number of small changes colliding can sometimes cause a shutdown.


💫change and injustice: For example: You got a new toothpaste with a Santa hat on it? Looks festive & fun, but for an Autistic person it may have potential to be ‘wrong’ or ‘unsafe’ & therefore can be both a change & an injustice. 


Imagine, Then being unable to problem solve or communicate the issue in a way easily understood? Queue, Shutdown and meltdown, which may appear to come out of nowhere or for no reason. 


There’s always a reason.


 🧚🏻‍♀️make a note of every change, sensory happening or ‘injustice’ no matter how insignificant you think it is, & you may find the root of the injustice that triggers these things. Then, Understand it’s not an overreaction & remind yourself that these are big issues to us. Then you can work together to remove triggers.


Remember, an injustice problem solving overload & shutdown can all contribute to a meltdown & it won’t be our fault or something we can avoid!


Accept that the Autistic person will do their best to participate in anything if they can, but their need to try & find a safe routine, or an therapeutic grounder, or time out,  may be higher at this time of year. Let them have alone time & time to recharge when they need it.


💫Unfamiliar food. Uho! 

The change in routine is often accompanied with people offering different foods that you don’t know are ‘safe’ to eat.


‘Safe’ in this manner, means practised to perfection for sensory, comfort & gastric issues-anything new or unfamiliar, has potential to not be ‘safe’ in this way.

Let’s face it, most of us don’t eat lashings of salmon, 3 bird dinners or nut roasts, drink Egg nog or mulled wine, all too often! New, represent a chance for danger! 


This can present challenges for anyone Autistic, who has specific eating patterns & who reacts strongly to foods due to sensory issues of taste, texture & smell, or even color. 


🧚🏻‍♀️How you can help: Recognize that Autistic people may have specific needs & requirements relating to food, whether that is due to intolerance, sensory issues or genuine dislike. Accept it’s not us being difficult or ‘not being festive’. Recognise we are not doing anything wrong with trying to communicate this genuine fear & discomfort we have.


🧚🏻‍♀️avoid forcing us to “try something new” or make us eat anything we don’t want to at a time we cannot. 


🧚🏻‍♀️Think about how you would feel if someone tried to get you to eat a food that you think is dangerous.


Imagine someone pressuring you to eat an uncooked raw meat- you suspect you’ll get food poisoning but they’re pressuring & gaslighting as if your concerns aren’t real? How do you feel? Do you eat it & face the consequences? Communicate your feelings & hope they’ll understand? 


Imagine then, communicating you dislike or don’t trust this food & now think about how that must feel to STILL be forced to eat, because the ‘problem’ is seen as your own.


These issues are real to us. We  may feel unsafe with change & new food. That feeling is not imaginary or easily controlled! Imagine, now being autistic , where the consequence could be very damaging indeed- gastric agony, shutdown, injustice meltdown or general exhaustion? It’s not very festive or pleasant, I can assure you.


For me, if eating something new & scary could possibly mean I can NOT do festive things later, (because I’m on the loo for hours, or in bed shutdown, or crying under a table somewhere) then I won’t eat it- but people don’t always understand this level of reasoning in autistic people. We are trying!


🧚🏻‍♀️Try to understand that we’re not being difficult or challenging anyone — we’re in genuine distress. If an Autistic person says “no” to something, respect that choice. Try to understand it’s root & challenge your perceptions of why we said ‘no’. Then, respect our lack of consent, to put ‘unsafe’ food into OUR bodies. 


🧚🏻‍♀️Then, incorporate foods & meals into the Christmas period that will provide some semblance of normality & a sense of place.


💫Too much COMPLICATED noise & Twinkly, shiny, glittery things, & laughter or overlapping conversations.


All this, accompanied by loud music, movies, the sounds of new toys being played with, sounds from computer games, or just general noisy chatter can be absolutely mind-bendingly distressing at this time of year.


Especially as the pressure to ‘grin & bare it’ for a few hours is bombarding you from all angles. You don’t want to ruin Christmas, after all.


💫There is a bombardment  of sights & sounds to take on board at this time of year, from brighter lighting in shops & Christmas lights everywhere, to music played at higher volumes too, not to mention chatter, laughter & general high spirits & volumes of people, if you’re out in public.


💫Too much noise & light can quickly leave me feeling drained, exhausted & in SO much pain. I need to recover for days to regain capabilities that I’ve lost from walking through shops at Christmas time. I shutdown HARD!


🧚🏻‍♀️How you can help: Arrange quiet time, or a safe spot for your loved one to go if they are feeling overstimulated by noise. 


A quiet half-hour might be enough to reduce stimulation levels to a manageable point. 


Everything from sensory onslaught, & exhaustion can be overwhelming & create a whole new change of routine & injustices... I love Christmas but I’m so often overwhelmed, shutdown or hiding while I recover!


🧚🏻‍♀️Listen to our needs or look out for the signs that we need help or restbite- then provide us with restbite with no judgement or pressure.


 🧚🏻‍♀️Let us wear headphones or ear defenders if we need to — mine make a WORLD of difference & allow me to safely manage conversations or public settings while also improving focus & capabilities.


🧚🏻‍♀️Remember- (as I’m sure you are aware) headphones are NOT being rude & also please politely challenge misconceptions that it is. We are trying our best!


🧚🏻‍♀️make  sure we have sunglasses available to reduce the effects of light in public / family settings.


🧚🏻‍♀️Avoid making someone who is close to shutdown or meltdown simply “carry on” in that situation if they have expressed discomfort. Take them away & allow them to calm down so they can regain lost mental, emotional & physical capability’s.




Being away from your comfort or ‘safe’ zones, being in NEW places (read: potentially ‘unsafe’ places)...It can all be stressful for someone who is Autistic. I know it is, for me!


Even worse is the unexpected social chatter. 


If someone is merely standing in a room with me & I’m trying to complete a routine or problem solve or do a chore, it depletes ALL of my physical & mental capability’s because I’m constantly wrestling with the pressure & expectation that they’ll require me to socialise or communicate or do something NEW soon.


It shuts me down. It’s the same when people arrive unannounced. Even if I know i trust them, or if they’re baring gifts or Christmas cheer: it’s still shuts me down. Socialising & communicating under this much overwhelm & pressure is HARD. 


Coupling that with constant social expectation, when you’re already on edge, recovering or verging into shutdown & super anxious, can be a nightmare.


I run out of social energy QUICKLY! any socializing for me, needs to be in short bursts of interaction, followed by alone time to recover.


The problem is that with Christmas, grounding myself with stimming or rest to recover isn’t always possible because I’m always expected to socialise or otherwise be present in a room or setting filled with people.


This along with everything else Creates a swift shutdown where I’m less  able to recover. These are not my fault but I’m still sometimes expected to continue waring out my battery because Christmas spirit dictates it’s the ‘only’ way to be festive.


🧚🏻‍♀️How you can help: Try not to plan social outings, shopping trips, decorating, or gatherings on consecutive days if at all possible. Plan enough time for us to recover after each event. supported alone time afterwards & during, so we can attempt to regain our capabilities & energy, really helps. 


🧚🏻‍♀️ If we express distress, overwhelm or anxiety, remove us from that situation & get to a calm, quiet place. Reassure that it’s okay to leave/go back when ready.


😇In conclusion:😇

The shopping, the crowds, the parties, & the art of gift giving… it is easy not to feel quite so wonderful, at this most wonderful time of year.


💫I personally like to plan everything with lots of research & lists. Including rest bite, gifts, food, social, decorating, shopping, & new routines. It helps me a lot.


 💫It’s okay to not feel wonderful even if the world is covered in Christmas cheer. It is okay if it is hard or emotional. This doesn’t diminish your value.


💫make Christmas magical for YOU- no matter what that looks like! Appreciate & show love & kindness to yourself & loved ones


💫rest often & ask for help & give yourself credit. You’re trying your best & that’s perfect! 

Don’t compare yourself to other peoples ‘wonderful time of year’. You’re equally as wonder filled, not in spite of your Autistic love. 

  Please try to remember you’ve got through every hard thing so far- you can get through this- no one else got you through the struggles before now - YOU did.  Try not to dim your sparkle for anyone who doesn’t understand the magic within you.

Don’t forget that your aura is a rainbow of beautiful colours; learn to embrace the thunderous clouds that shift across the surface. Breathe in positivity, breathe out negativity.

Learn from the pain; shift the focus of anger, into a passion to create change for others, and for you. When it’s safe to, Try to let it transform you for the better; Sparkle and dance!

Let yourself shine, & live your best life; Surround yourself by the magic & love that you crave & deserve. remember if you fail or make mistakes, your good intention was good enough an magic takes time. Try not to beat yourself up, for not sparkling with love and joy. 

For not being festive with family or friends. 

For not being jolly and high.

Be you... you're perfect, as you are. Just because people dont recognise the magic within you yet doesnt mean they never will, and doesnt mean the magic isnt there. have faith, that you are good enough and your good intentions are perfect, too.

Merry festive season everyone! Peace x

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